Music videos are so 80s/90s, right? They belong with the era when MTV screened wall-to-wall vids instead of 'reality' TV? Try telling that to the millions who bought Gangnam Style; were they really simply loving the music? 1.6bn (and still climbing) have viewed the video on YT, not to mention the many re-makes (school eg, eg2), viral ads + celeb link-ups (even political protest in Seoul) - and it doesn't matter how legit it is, this nightmare for daydream Beliebers is making a lot of money, even from the parodies + dislikes. All this for a simple dance track that wouldn't have sounded out of place in 1990 ... but had a fun vid. This meme itself was soon displaced by the Harlem Shake. Music vids even cause diseases it seems!
This blog explores every aspect of this most postmodern of media formats, including other print-based promo tools used by the industry, its fast-changing nature, + how fans/audiences create/interact. Posts are primarily written with Media students/educators in mind. Please acknowledge the blog author if using any resources from this blog - Mr Dave Burrowes

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

VidEG: Pixies "Bagboy" (2013)

Much retweeted: notice of tour, vid + free MP3 download
ACT: The Pixies
TRACK: Bagboy
YEAR: 2013
GENRE: Alt rock
MAIN AUDIENCE: 25-44 (recent/original fans), but clearly targeting new 15-24 + possibly younger teens/tweens; M-oriented vid?
Money is recouped by gathering email addresses
I've blogged on The Pixies before: see this post detailing the band's style, including their quirky take on vids (or 'anti-vids'), or this post detailing their classic single-take vid Velouria (more egs here and here; comparisons to Jesus and Mary Chain here)


LAMAR+NIK often feature non-CGI sculpture-as-title. Reminds me of films like Napoleon Dynamite

  • The use of digital media to promote this is exemplary
  • its timed to help promote a tour: the MP3 is available free
  • with controversial content rendering it unsuitable for pre-watershed UK screening, its main life will be online
  • the media language is odd for a music vid, more cinematic in its approach, especially editing
  • the central character is a clear representation of a (younger) fan, tho' there may be veiled criticism in there too
  • its hard to judge whether this will succeed in appealing to a young, new Pixies fanbase
  • there are some touches of creative genius...

Users are encouraged to tweet/FB post
This is a great example of an act originating decades ago (so long ago in fact that your blog author was barely out of primary school) that have firmly grasped the challenge and opportunity presented by digitisation and social media. I stumbled across news of a new release on Facebook ... forgot about it ... decided to log in to a Twitter account I've not looked at since setting it up years ago ... and quickly came across a link again.

News of a tour is all over the blogosphere, twittersphere, FB, e-zines and magazines (depending on what feeds you subscribe to of course). The comeback of this band is newsworthy for many publications/outlets, but the killer hook that's guaranteed the print/screen inches, thumbs up, likes, retweets and whatnots is a new video, plus the opportunity to download the track for free.
That last detail helps show the shift from music sales to ticket/merchandise sales for many acts in the digital age, plus revenue more from streaming (often by sharing in the website's, eg YouTube, advertising revenue) than physical sales.

 "You are proselytizing alone listening to the voice with your ears" (sample lyric)

Screenshot taken 4 days after this was uploaded. Note the FREE DOWNLOAD link, + director's site URL


Its as odd as the sample lyric might suggest - which is very in keeping with previous vids from a band that have rebelled against the commercial nature of music vids as ads or branding (see those links above on Velouria et al). We follow a nerdy teen boy doing some untypical shopping, and then doing rather strange things around the house. And that's it! No intercut performance footage to render this more palatable. Other than slo-mo (used to great effect though), there's little in the way of FX. I'd never (knowingly) encountered the directors before, but a quick glimpse at their website suggests a style very in keeping with The Pixies' minimalist aesthetic. Like so much of modern film and TV, it serves up realism ... filtered through a fantasy fanboy eye.

The particular specs, ginger hair, acne are all key signifiers of outsider status ... but, in the age of endless comicbook film adaptations has the geek become the dominant force in youth culture? That Napoleon Dynamite (a cult Indie comedy that predated this boom) comparison is springing to mind again!

Typical Pixies abstract, awkward framing
It's common for acts to feature characters who reflect their target audience in videos. This act's main following would be that older 'mature youth' 25-44 category who have picked on the band at some point over the preceding near-30 years of existence. The Pixies have picked up new followings repeatedly though: as a key influence on Nirvana and the Seattle/grunge acts they were 'rediscovered' in the early 90s ... and again a decade later when they reformed and played a series of festivals.

Hero?! The cheeky sod nicks his mum's credit card...
They could do with refreshing their fanbase today, and it'll do no harm to centre their vid on a character who quite directly represents a typical Indie/alt rock fan. The blue check shirt is a very specific Portland/Pixies signifier, often sported by lead singer Black Francis. Anchorage for the unitiated who wouldn't pick up on that detail is provided by the band's name written over his forehead at the start of the track! (see large screenshot above).

It would be interesting to hear views of a selection of teens unfamiliar with The Pixies on this vid - our 'hero' (perhaps anti-hero or antagonist?!) is plainly a geek, nerd, outsider - use your own term. In conventional terms he's simply not cool. But then, his rebelliousness and freedom of action (lyric: "like a small bird free, crapping on the day") counters the appearance. I've got to say that such oddball behaviour is characteristic of the few of my peers back in the day who were Pixies fans, and fits well with the intense (but varied and shifting too) music and brooding lyrics.

This is timed with the lyric "Like when I hear the sound of feet slapping on the runway"; I rather like the visual pun here (or am I guilty of reading too much into this?!)

The cinematography is often handheld, and doesn't shy away from shaky shots. This kinetic (sense of energy through movement) style is becoming more and more mainstream, as rebellious as it may have been in earlier Pixies vids, seen in ever more films and TV to give a pseudo-social realist sheen (precisely why I tried to engage Les Mis/TisEng cinematographer Danny Cohen on this at the 2012 ASFF masterclass...).

The overtones of a social realist style are fairly typical for Indie bands, and indeed any act who seek to brand themselves as street, keeping it real and suchlike. It comes across as authentic for me in this case, but perhaps my fan status is a factor. The unglamorous protagonist would be in keeping with the social realist code of following the outsider typically excluded from (positive) mainstream representation - this is clearly closer to TisEng's Shaun than any Hugh Grant character for instance (or Mickybo and Me rather than the boys in Son of Rambow).

The persistent refusal to edit to the track itself is both frustrating and rewarding, as it serves to highlight the artistry of the cinematography and is somewhat typical of this band's unorthodox approach to music video; they tend to flatly reject the very basics of the media language expected from the format. There are many longish takes mixed in with the shorter takes we expect from music vids - this video has quite a cinematic feel to it (not so unusual for the magpie format of music vid, which borrows liberally from pretty much every form of media).

Any vid should strive for moments like this: this shot would look well as a framed picture. Its simply aesthetically stunning, with an artist's colour palette. Quirky and dangerous at once, with the expensively-furnished, neat and ornate middle-class living room juxtaposed with a lurid red flare (the boy also walks around with a green flare and more).

In most vids we'd get to discussing the representation of the act, lipsynching, performance shots etc. Here, its a narrative-only approach, and you simply have to take note of the idiosyncratic mise-en-scene, from the sculpture-title (and head-grafitti title!) to the shot above. There's another fine example featuring a bath filled with milk and coloured Cheerios. Student productions can, and should, strive for such eye-catching, breath-taking moments - these require time to set up, perhaps a willing cast and a small budgetary investment, but offer a real impact.

Sat viewing this now, I'm reminded of a single shot from a student rom-com opening from FIVE YEARS AGO, with a similar effect achieved by one of the filmmakers, Chris Benisek, in a 2009 A2 production too.
It's no coincidence that the shot mentioned above is used as the thumbnail, seen here on the directors' website. Have a look: it seems the use of sculptures as titles is a regular feature (based on the thumbnails alone)

Here's a few more examples, where framing, colour and unexpected use of props/mise-en-scene all serve to make this memorable and visually pleasurable/entertaining:
Artful framing renders the TV hellish...
Interesting framing in the supermarket (+ rebelliousness of playing on trolley)
Innocent child after all? The boy (to ironic lyric of 'bad boy') plays with balloons. Reminds me of one of the frankly brilliant student vids from 2012, the Girls Aloud Jump by Hattie + Faye.

The simple answer, or my educated guess anyway, would be ... yes ... but does it matter?
We see destructive behaviour by a child, and anything with the potential to inspire copycat mimickry by children will face difficulty pre-watershed.
Bubbles work well on screen; juxtaposed here with baseball bat
The video has a particularly sinister shot towards the end which firmly anchors what has seemed otherwise a fairly polysemic vid (at least, the balloon scene makes me say so) - I'll not embed this as the linear vid is worth seeing without 'spoilers'!

The baseball bat to the lamp, on top of letting off flares indoors ... not gonna happen pre-9pm (in the UK).

Watershed kiss of death as the lamp gets ... lamped!!!
Returning to where I started, with the clever, effective use of social media - it's hard to say that this really matters. MTV long ago stopped showing music vids, and Top of the Pops' death signified the removal of pop TV from primetime terrestrial channels. The Pixies aren't a mainstream act; nearly a million online views (which they'll make money from through YouTube ads) in 4 days surely suggests they can happily get away with this?

That's not such an easy consideration for the school/college-based video-maker necessarily, but that's an individual negotiation.

This is returning really to the artful use of mise-en-scene, and sheer inventiveness, but a key element to that in this vid is the use of juxtapositioning: placing contrasting elements together within the frame (can also be applied in narrative terms - the balloon scene is juxtaposed with the rest!).

For me, this last example is simply ingenious - though I can see that it could be read as vapid or pretentious just as easily (again, I accept my subjectivity here as a Pixies fan!).

Take a moment to ponder the construction of this, and when creating your own ask yourself if you could come up with something similarly visually arresting and thought-provoking (even if the thought is of the OMG variety!)...
Smashing Pumpkins ... sorry, plates. Is this pseudo-intellectual pretentiousness, a touch of genius, or somewhere in between - an inventive and playful touch? Does the lad's use of books suggest something about his character? Are we really meant to sympathise with him? We're certainly manipulated to identify, empathise with him.
Right, here it is, the vid itself, followed by a couple of links with other reviews on it...

LouderThanWar; Gizmodo; Guardian; Stereogum; Pitchfork; UnderTheRadar; IndieShuffle........ why not add your own?!

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